The eternal struggle of rating books

In March I’ll have been running this blog for 4 years. That’s so crazy to me! It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long, but I guess it has. I started this blog shortly after I graduated from college and before I was working full-time or had completed my Master’s. Apparently that was 4 years ago! Over that amount of time, I feel like my ratings have become more consistent. Early on, I definitely gave more five star ratings than I do currently. This is basically a short rundown of how I rate books these days.

discussion posts

Firstly, if it was just up to me, I would probably give half-star ratings (and I do occasionally). But since Goodreads doesn’t allow half-star ratings, I try not to do that unless I have to. I want my ratings on here to match the stars I give a book on Goodreads.

One Star

I rarely give out one star ratings. That’s just because if I dislike a book enough to give it one star, I’ve probably DNFed it and I don’t give ratings to books I DNF. Here’s a link to my post about why I DNF books.

Two Stars

I finished it, but I didn’t like it. I didn’t absolutely HATE it, but I wouldn’t generally recommend it.

Recent(ish) two stars: S.T.A.G.S. by M.A. Bennett, Hello, Sunshine by Leila Howard, Coming Up for Air by Miranda Kenneally

Three Stars

This book was okay. Pretty good even. I didn’t hate it, but there’s still room for improvement in my opinion. Maybe the writing wasn’t great, the characters were a little annoying, the world wasn’t convincing, or the plot was lacking. It’s not something that I would necessarily recommend, but it was fine.

Recent three stars: The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, Love á la Mode by Stephanie Kate Strohm, The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

Four Stars

I liked this book a lot and would highly recommend it! Maybe there were a couple little things that didn’t make sense or jive with me, but I’m willing to overlook them!

Recent four stars: Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Sadie by Courtney Summers, The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson

Five Stars

As I said earlier, I have definitely become more selective with my five star reviews. At this point, a five star comes when I absolutely LOVE a book. If I finish it, close the cover, and then hug the book (or my Kindle) to my chest (possibly holding back tears, but that’s optional), it’s a five star book.

Recent(ish) five stars: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

How do you rate books? Do you find you’re freer or more stingy when handing out five star ratings? Do you ever one star books or do you just DNF? Do you do partial star ratings?
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Top Ten Tuesday: Underappreciated Books

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week there is a new topic and this week’s topic is: Top Ten Books We Enjoyed That Have Under 2000 Ratings On Goodreads

Okay, so I know it’s not Tuesday, but I had a really busy/crazy long weekend and this was really the soonest I could put it up (I did not think far enough ahead to schedule this post).

Nora & Kettle by Lauren Nicolle Taylor – 189 ratings
This book gives an important look at what life used to be like for Japanese Americans in the United States. Taylor retells the story of Peter Pan in a beautifully heartbreaking and realistic way. My review here.

These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas – 1,714 ratings
I thought this book was surprisingly good. The reader gets an X-Men/Jane Austen combo and it’s definitely enjoyable. My review here.

The Comeback Season by Jennifer E Smith – 1,261 ratings
If you like baseball at all then you’ll love this book. I absolutely adore the way that Smith writes about baseball in this book. So beautiful. My review here.

They Call Me Alexandra Gastone by  T.A. Maclagan – 197 ratings
A YA Thriller that actually makes sense. I had some issues with this book, but overall I enjoyed it. The sequel either just came out or is just about to come out. My review here.

Whippoorwill by Joseph Monninger – 290 ratings
This book is really different from other YA books. The main character’s relationship with the dog is more important than her romantic relationship. This book also really made me want to get a dog. My review here.

Whisper to Me by Nick Lake – 303 ratings
This book is so weird and interesting. We have a really unique main character who may or may not be reliable. The way the book is written is also very interesting as it is a letter to an unnamed character. My review here.

How Zoe Made Her Dreams (Mostly) Come True by Sarah Strohmeyer – 1,835 ratings
I just love this book. It’s so cute and I love getting a “behind-the-scenes” look at what it’s like to work at a big amusement park. This book will make you want to go to Disneyland.

Rumpelstiltskin by K.M. Shea – 905 ratings
I love all of K.M. Shea’s fairytale retellings and Rumpelstiltskin is her fourth one. They’re all written in the same world so characters cameo in each others’ books. A fun world that I definitely recommend!

You Were Here by Cori McCarthy – 508 ratings
This book is written in such an interesting way. The POV changes between chapters and some characters have their chapters in different formats. This one deals with some pretty heavy topics though, so not for younger readers. My review here.

Skyscraping by Cordelia Jensen – 479 ratings
I don’t usually like novels written in verse, but this one was pretty good. This one also deals with some heavy topics in a really realistic way.

Parental Advisory for Books?

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Just a picture, not actually a warning for this post.

For those of you who have been following my blog for a while, you might remember that I did a post on parental advisory for books almost exactly a year ago. Within the last couple of months this post has seemed to regain interest–the views have really started to pick up–and I’m not exactly sure why. I reread through that post and the comments the other day and I felt like I needed to write a new post addressing the topic. Now that I’m halfway done with my Masters in Library Science, I feel like I have a little more perspective and a more concrete opinion on the matter.

Just as a reminder from the brief research that I did for my last post, I didn’t find that ratings or labeling content as “explicit” was required for any medium (movies, video games, music) but that it was encouraged in a lot of them. I’ve seen some books that have warnings as part of the summary, but they’ve all been books that I’ve found on Amazon and appear to be self-published or published by a small publishing house–not by one of the big five.

The last time I talked about this, I proposed that books be given ratings similar to movies and video games. I think a lot of people took that to mean that children would be restricted from certain books if the rating was too mature like they are from R-rated movies and Mature rated video games (which started to feel like censorship to some). As I’ve started my degree, I’ve discovered that librarians feel very passionately about censorship (I’m taking an Intellectual Freedom course next term). They do not agree with it and actively fight against it in a lot of cases. I too do not believe that librarians have the responsibility to censor material for their young patrons–that is the job of parents. Who am I as a librarian to say whether or not someone else’s kid can read Fifty Shades of Grey? I know I wouldn’t let my kid read it, but that’s my own personal decision. I realize now that I should have clarified something in my original post. I’m not proposing that kids be kept from reading certain books if they choose to read them. What I am proposing is that books be given ratings as a source of information for consumers (and parents of consumers).

While you’re not given the responsibility to tell people what they can and can’t read as a librarian, you are given the responsibility of recommending books to people when they ask. This is called Readers’ Advisory (I took a class on that as well). Part of the RA interview is to determine a reader’s comfort level in certain areas. Perhaps you have a patron that loves reading romance. She’s comfortable with some steamy scenes, but she’s not a fan of erotica. It’s the librarian’s job to recommend books that fall within her comfort level. With what I propose, the rating system will only help readers to get the same information that they might get from a librarian during an RA interview. We already have a summary of the book, why not a brief summary of its adult content as well?

Ultimately I see this as a help for the consumer when determining what to read, but also for parents of young readers. My mom was a great mom. She was a stay-at-home mom so she was able to spend a lot of time with me and my siblings and was very involved in our lives. That being said, with the rate at which my sister and I consumed books, there was no way that my mom could keep up with what we were reading. There were a couple of times when my mom caught wind of something “bad” in a book or series that I was reading and she made it clear that I was not to read those books. Honestly, I didn’t care. There were plenty of other books to read so I did what she asked (I mean, she’s my mom…what was I going to do?). I think if books had the kind of ratings that I’m proposing, my mom would have had a much easier time helping us to choose books with content that she thought was appropriate for us to be reading which is exactly what we as librarians hope parents will do.

So now that I’ve made some clarifications in my opinion, what do you guys think? Do you still think it’s a bad idea? Or would you find this kind of information helpful as well?

DISCUSSION: Parental Advisory for books

This is a new segment that I hope to start up where I’ll have a topic that I’ve done a little research on, and then hopefully we can get a nice discussion going.

Today’s topic: Parental Advisory for books.

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Anyone who has read any of my reviews will notice that I include a short review on content at the end. Basically I list a level (ranging from none to explicit) for four categories: language, violence, sexual content, and smoking/drinking. I’ve made a personal decision to be a little more careful about what kind of content I read, and I supply this information because I think it could be helpful to others.

Something that I’ve wondered about is why don’t books have parental advisory labels or ratings already? Thinking about other forms of media, most come with ratings (ex. movies, music, video games). However, in researching this topic, I was surprised to find that these ratings are not actually mandatory (at least for music and movies, the article I read didn’t say anything about video games). Movie ratings were described as being “de facto mandatory”. Which means, legally it’s not mandatory, but practically it is. This is because many theater chains refuse to show movies that are not rated (which would significantly cut into profits). I do wonder if the popularity of RedBox will have any effect on this, but that’s a completely separate discussion. For music, it’s completely voluntary and there’s little regulation. “Explicit content” has no specific definition and it’s up to the artists and their labels to determine whether their album falls under that category and if it does, then they have to decide whether or not to label it.

The article that I looked at from E Online listed a couple of reasons why books are not and should not be rated. The first is that unlike someone choosing a movie or video game, someone choosing a book can talk to a librarian or someone working at a bookstore to determine whether or not the content is appropriate. Honestly, this seemed like a really weak argument to me. Word of mouth works really well for books, but not for movies or video games? Meh. Not seeing it. The second argument definitely held more weight. The article talked about the sheer volume of books that are published every year versus the number of movies. I see how this could be problematic. But how many people read through a book before it’s published by a major publisher? I’m genuinely asking this question because I don’t know. But if enough people are reading through it before publication, it seems like they could each submit a rating for it and then there could be some system for combining the ratings or something like that.

Okay, so maybe by now you’re convinced that we could hypothetically have a parental advisory or some sort of rating system for books. Here’s the question: Should we do it? If not, do you feel that other forms of media should be unrated as well? Why? If you do think we should have parental advisory, why? Do you think that rating books is practical or not?

Please, I’d like to hear from everyone but BE KIND. In the end, we’re just a bunch of people who love books but probably have different opinions–especially since this issue does not have a right or wrong answer.

Sources:
http://www.eonline.com/news/314975/should-50-shades-of-grey-come-with-a-parental-advisory-sticker
http://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2010/10/29/130905176/you-ask-we-answer-parental-advisory—why-when-how